Tag Archives: Evelyn Araluen

Journal Catch-up 19

I’m almost caught up on my journal-reading. This isn’t a result of my diligence, but of the difficulties besetting literary journals just now. Heat has been appearing like clockwork, but the Summer 2022 edition of Overland arrived in my mailbox in mid Autumn 2023, and Southerly and the Australian Poetry Journal and Anthology – to which I subscribe – haven’t published hard-copy issues for two years.

Here are two almost-current issues, blogged with attention to page 76 as per my arbitrary blog policy.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 7 (Giramondo 2023)

From the Heat website:

The first issue of HEAT was published in July 1996, in the wake of the Demidenko Affair, in which an Australian author of English background posed as Ukrainian in order to gain credibility for her Holocaust-inspired novel. The anger provoked by this hoax accounts in large part for the magazine’s name, and a commitment to the publication of genuinely diverse writing.

The third series is different from the first two in many ways, but it continues to make a rich contribution to Australian literary culture through its commitment to writing from non-British backgrounds. This issue includes translations from Chinese, Spanish, French and Ukrainian, as well as work by two non-Anglo Australians – П.O. and Eda Gunaydin. Five poems by Melbourne poet Gareth Morgan may make him an exception, though a man in one of his poems says, ‘He must be fresh off the boat,’ which seems to imply a non-Anglo appearance.

I most enjoyed Eda Gunaydin’s ‘Fuck Up’, a comic tale of two young Anglo men who set up a Go Fund Me for an imaginary anti-Islamophobia conference, whose scheme goes awry when they find themselves actually trying to organise the conference. Two stories by Zhu Yue (translated from Chinese by Jianan Qian and Alyssia Asquith) reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges; Andriy Lyubka ‘Roasted Uganda’ (translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan), a letter from the war in Ukraine, is available to read on the Heat website.

Noémie Lefebvre’s ‘Les non-dupes errent and other ghosts’ (translated by Sophie Lewis), which begins on page 76, overcame my codgerly resistance to stories that invoke French Theorists: the narrator is stuck in the middle of writing a tragedy, pondering the futility of literature given the state of the world and remembering her mother’s anorexia as she prepares to eat some toast – as one does – when Lacan (no first name) turns up and they have a weirdly obscure, but funny and resonant conversation.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 249 (Summer 2022)
(Some of the content – less than in the past – is online at the revamped Overland website, and I’ve included links)

Apart from its usual excellent content this issue of Overland brought tears to my eyes with a letter to ‘the Overland family’ from the editors committing themselves to the MEAA’s Freelance Charter, which among other things means not passing on the effects of funding challenges to their contributors. I’m an MEAA member, book editors’ section. They’ve just guaranteed that I’ll keep subscribing for the foreseeable.

The issue kicks off with an excoriation of Heather Rose’s Bruny, which almost makes me want to read the novel to see if Elias Grieg, the excoriator, might have failed to notice that the narrative was deeply ironic. But I can resist. There are also interesting articles on forced adoption (by EJ Clarence), brain tumour as experienced by an environmental activist (Bonnie Etherington), and language liberation (Natalia Figueroa Barroso).

Of the generous array of poems, I most enjoyed Ouyang Yu’s uncharacteristically upbeat ‘To Richard Ouyang’, a meditation on the naming of his bicultural son.

There are five short stories, including one (by Avi Leibovitch) that features a talking cat, another (by Tim Loveday) that features small dogs in a bushfire (and mentions in passing a horrific practice in commercial dog-breeding), a family drama (by Rob Johnson) told from a child’s point of view (‘it was like a movie and I wasn’t part of it’). I enjoyed all of them. Fortuitously the one beginning on page 76, ‘Black Spring’ by Hossein Asgari, is perhaps the most interesting.

The protagonist of ‘Black Spring’ is a university teacher who has moved back in with his parents during the pandemic. It begins:

He pushes his chair back and stretches his limbs, turning himself into a multiplication sign before taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. He knows how they must look: red, irritated, thirsty for a few artificial tears. Has he just snapped at a student? In an online class which was recorded? God damn it! He slams his laptop shut, opens his desk drawer, picks up his eyedrops, and walks to the window. His father still squats where he’s been for the last hour, under the shade of the fig tree, a garden trowel in his hand.

The family relationships reveal themselves – the father is in early stages of dementia, the mother has health issues, the pandemic brings its own problems, it’s not easy working from home when it’s also your parents’ home, and so on. It reads as a Melbourne story, like most of Overland‘s contents, with mild hints of non-Anglo culture in the father’s habit of sucking on sugar cubes, or the mother’s offer of a choice between dates and dark chocolate with a cup of tea. Then there’s a deft reveal, first with the mention of an Imam influencing the water supply, and then with a place name, that the story is unfolding in Iran. No big deal is made of the reveal, and the story continues – a sweet, understated piece of anti-Othering.


Heat 8 has already landed (and been reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog). The good things just keep coming.

Journal Catch-up 18

I’m not across the detail of the Australian government’s National Cultural Policy – ‘Revive: a place for every story and a story for every place’ (here’s a link) – but I hope it means our literary journals are in a less desperately mendicant state. Certainly, I’m grateful that they continue to exist and even proliferate, even though my reading is limited. Just two on this blog post, both from last year, and both blogged with attention to page 76 as per my arbitrary blog policy.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 6 (Giramondo 2022)

There are two wonderful homegrown pieces in this Heat: Fiona Wright’s essay about ageing, ‘To Begin / It Broke’; and Oscar Schwartz’s ‘Father Figures’, a collection of ultra-short prose pieces written as the birth of his first child approached. You can read the latter on the Heat website at this link.

There are translations – four poems translated from Chinese and an essay from Norwegian – and six pages devoted to images of witty ceramic pieces by Kenny Pittock with the self-explanatory titlePost-It Notes Found While Working in a Supermarket’.

Page 76 is near the beginning of the longest and most ambitious piece, ‘Dear Editor’ by Amitava Kumar. Kumar was born in India and now lives in Poughkeepsie, New York. The story starts with a writer flying to Mumbai from New York composing an op-ed in his head about the plane’s broken toilets and the smell of shit. He keeps it up:

My ability to exaggerate does on occasion get the better of me but, believe me, I’m not being fanciful when I say that even the blue carpet in the aisles exuded a faecal odour – no, a heavier element, a moist miasma, that entered the nose and seemed to paralyse the senses. This preceding sentence was going into the op-ed.

My resistance was immediate and intense. Why is an Australian literary journal giving over more than a third of its pages to an Indian-born USian complaining about his country of origin? There are quite a few more sentences for the op-ed, but just as I was about to skip to the end of the story, the scene changes to a hotel in Mumbai where the daughter of an old friend is to be married.

It took a few pages, but the narrator has a fleeting sense of himself as an obnoxious expat and starts a conversation wth a fellow guest, an older woman. The imagined op-ed takes on a more serious tenor, and eventually disappears altogether as the narrator is absorbed by the woman’s story. I have no idea how much of this story is fiction, how much journalistic truth, but the ‘mix of arrogance and condescension’, as he later describes it, turns out to have been a slipway into an account of the coming of Hindu-style fascism to a small village. My resistance was completely dissolved, and I’ve added Amitava Kumar to the list of writers I wish had been invited to the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 248 (Spring 2022)
(Some of the content – less than in the past – is online at the revamped Overland website, and I’ve included links)

Many of the articles in this Overland have a literary academic feel: Thomas Moran writes about M Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow; Michael Griffiths compares and contrasts T S Eliot and Catholic German sometime Nazi Party member Carl Schmitt; Abigail Fisher discusses Bella Li’s Theory of Colours. All three are in accessible English, but aim for a readership who is more specialist than usual for Overland articles and, I confess, more specialist than I am.

The poetry, on the other hand, is more accessible than usual. I especially like Isobel Prior’s ‘The Medical Man’, a narrative about a hospital tragedy somewhat in the manner of the late, great Bruce Dawe; and Paul Magee’s ‘Flag mask’, a reminder of what the Australian Parliament was like before May 2022.

Of the five short stories, two play masterfully and unsettlingly with the notion of consent: ‘Espalier‘ by Kerry Greer and ‘What it means to say yes‘ by Megan McGrath.

Page 76 falls in the middle of the other short story that spoke strongly to me, ‘In the garden‘ by Jayda Franks. A character introduced as ‘a young man’ visits another character referred to mainly as ‘the woman’ in an aged care facility. As they chat and play with dirt in the garden, we realise that they have a history but there is a reason beyond her dementia for her not remembering him. It’s a simple, poignant tale whose twist is an emotional twist of the knife rather than a surprise. Here’s a little from the dialogue in the garden to give you a sense of the way the narrative captures the way conversation with someone with demential can go, while suggesting that something else is going on:

‘I don’t remember you,’ she says. She is much more lucid now. Her eyes are sharp and clear and they fix on his own.
‘I know.’
‘I’m sorry.’
‘Please don’t be. I don’t blame you at all.’
She watches him crack his fingers and her brow furrows. ‘The counsellor here says we should ask visitors to tell us about themselves. Even if it doesn’t help us remember. Would you like to do that?’
He smiles sadly. ‘I am afraid I am a very different person to the one you remember.’
She turns to the spider lilies and he watches the conversation leach away from her. She beams at their slender petals and her whole face crinkles up like a young bud in bloom. When she looks back at him, she falters and his heart contracts.
‘Hello.’
‘Hello.’


I subscribe to two other journals, but they seem to be on hiatus. May they be revived by Revive before my next Journal Catch-up blog post.

Journal Catch-up 17

Sadly or otherwise, reading in the sauna turns out to be a prompt for excellent conversations, and I’m tending to walk rather than take public transport. So my standard time slots for reading journals have shrunk, and I’m as far behind as ever.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 5 (Giramondo 2022)

Each issue of the current series of Heat gives us a slender collection of excellent writing from Australia and elsewhere, including work in translation and work from Australian writers of non-Anglo background.

The stand-out feature in this issue is Kate Middleton’s three ‘Television Poems’. As someone who watches an awful lot of TV, I enjoyed these a lot. They deal with Dickinson (‘the one they always / had to label spinster, recluse, or else just too intense‘); the revelations about sexual abuse on the sets of TV shows, especially Hey Dad! (‘in suburban Sydney / the sitcom architect turned sinister’); and The Crown, with passing references to The Cosby Show, SVU, Scooby Doo, among others. Plus there are endnotes that are both helpful and funny (‘It’s hard being Kate Middleton and being uninterested in the royals’).

Of the rest, I most enjoyed Jenny Erpenbeck’s ‘Things That Disappear’, translated from German by Kurt Beals of the USA; and Oliver Driscoll’s ‘Two Simple Stories About Friendship’.

I had a vague unease reading this journal, which came into focus with the final piece, ‘Still Life With Cheese’ by playwright, poet and essayist Noëlle Janascweska. (You can read it for yourself on the Giramondo website at this link.) It’s a nicely written essay that interweaves the author’s personal dealings with various cheeses; a smattering of facts about the history of cheese manufacture; quotes from Zola, Auden, and Wallis & Gromit; and reflections on 16th century Flemish still lifes. There’s a reproduction of Still Life with Cheese, Artichoke and Cherries by Clara Peeters, 1625, which is stunning even in black and white. But I found myself wondering why I was reading it. I’m not particularly interested in cheese, and the essay didn’t make me interested. It feels like something written because the writer is a writer looking for a subject, rather than arising from any inner necessity.

At that point, something crystallised in my mind. It feels as if the new series hasn’t yet found its feet, hasn’t yet established a coherent purpose for existing. I already have two more issues on my TBR shelf. I’m hopeful.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 247 (Winter 2022)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

By contrast, Overland is suffused with a sense of purpose.

The lead article, ‘That’s not us!’ Wake in Fright and the Australian nightmare by Gregory Marks, is an excellent account of Ted Kotcheff’s film and Ken Cook’s novel it was taken from. It’s odd, though, to argue that the film, directed by a Canadian and starring an Englishman, exemplifies Australia’s ‘cultural cringe’. One moment that stands out in my memory from when I saw the film in 1971 is the alarming first appearance, complete with huge cigarette-lighter flame, of Chips Rafferty’s character (who isn’t mentioned in the article), which is the opposite of any kind of cringe.

Serving up colonialism instead of care‘ by Caitlin Prince tackles the pressing issue of how her fellow settler Australians can face and change attitudes that keep colonialist oppression in place. It’s a long article. Here’s a taste of the main argument:

Telling white Australians to ‘get over it’ would be consistent with our colonial stiff-upper-lip inheritance and Australia’s general trend of having the emotional intelligence of a brick, but it would also grossly misunderstand the problem. … People need space to unpack problematic racial views, otherwise they remain repressed, packed in tight, impossible to understand and shift. …

It is radical. and uncomfortable, to imagine meeting racist views with care – uncomfortable for everyone, but impossibly unfair to ask of Aboriginal people, whose lives (and deaths) are impacted by racism. Doing so, however, is sensible if we consider how human beings learn to regulate emotion.

Among the other articles, I particularly responded to ‘An almanac of immeasurable things‘ by Lachlan Summers, which sheds light on the naming conventions of cyclones and other phenomena, and the way the names can mislead. An example:

After the Black Summer [of 2019–2020], calls have been made for a category beyond catastrophic. Far outside the nomenclature of disaster, and generating new conditions of terror, this was a catastrophe that threatened not to end. In fact, ‘Black Summer’ refers to eleven months of waiting for fires to stop reproducing themselves.

The substantial array of poetry includes ‘log‘, a welcome new poem from joanne burns, which begins with this striking image:

dream’s letterhead lies exhausted
in the recycling bin

Among the healthy selection of short fiction, there were some effectively weird, surreal/uncanny pieces. My favourite, however, was a realistic story about a young person living in a share house in a southern city feeling for their home in Far North Queensland as it’s lashed by a cyclone. It’s ‘Sweet Anticipation’ by Jasmin McGaughey, winner of the 2021 Nakata Brophy Prize for young Indigenous writers. Interestingly, only an incidental word or two indicate that the protagonist is First Nations. At least, it’s interesting to me as a Far North Queenslander who was living in Sydney when Cyclone Larry took the roof off my childhood home.


The next issue of Heat kicks off with an essay by Fiona Wright. And a quick look at Overland 248 reveals the presence of an old friend from English Hons at Sydney Uni in the 1970s. Much to look forward to.

Journal Catch-up 16

I’m perpetually behind in my journal reading. Let’s see if my new approach of focusing on page 75 works for journals as well as for books.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 4 (Giramondo 2022)

I’m glad Heat is back, and I love the slender elegance of Series 3, but this issue didn’t thrill me. More than the three previous issues, it feels like a sampler: a selection of pieces that are short enough not to be a bother if not to your taste, but to make you want more if they are.

I’m sorry to say that most of them weren’t to my taste this time. In the show-me-more category were:

  • Nine pages of gorgeous photographs from the series ‘Trees and Fences’ by Yanni Florence 
  • Four poems by each of Ella Jeffery and Ella Skilbeck-Porter
  • Amy Leach’s celebration of the unpredictable, ‘Amen to Nonsense’, which is available online.

Page 75 falls part way into the Amy Leach piece. On this page the writer is imagining that the present moment is already in the distant past:

Presidents had succeeded presidents, screeds had succeeded screeds, people trying their damnedest had given way to other people trying their damnedest. Some things are up for grabs, like jobs and dollars and votes, and are worth trying one’s damnedest for, and some things are not, like time and the moon and the stars. The Bible was always saying to ‘lift up your eyes’, maybe because when we lifted our eyes we remembered that not everything was up for grabs. (When they named ages they usually named them after grabbable things, like iron, stone, bronze, information, etc., not ungrabbable things like the moon and the stars.)

This interplay of whimsy and metaphysics moves on to musings on reincarnation, the importance of the notes not played in music, astronomy, and more, arriving at a reformulation of Keats: ‘”Beauty is Nonsense, Nonsense beauty.”– that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ It’s fun and thought-provoking. Sadly, it’s followed by several pages of, well, tediously quirky Glossary. It did leave me wondering about Heat‘s editorial policy: assuming that there are plenty of Australians writing essays at least as interesting as this, why give valuable space to someone with no perceivable Australian connection, whose work, according to her brief bio, is already available in Best American Essays and similar places? Having said that, I’m looking forward to the article by the German writer Jenny Erpenbeck in issue Nº 5.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 246 (Autumn 2022)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

The lead essay in this Overland is ‘That’s what drives us to fight’: labour, wilderness and the environment in Australia‘ by Jeff Sparrow. It’s a solid, possibly old-fashioned Marxist account of the relationship between settlers and First Nations people in Australia. It starts with the way some environmentalist rhetoric about preserving ‘wilderness’ erases First Nations history and the resulting question, ‘How can we defend the natural world, while still recognising Indigenous history?’ and proceeds to a discussion of the frontier wars that I can’t recommend strongly enough as a supplement to Rachel Perkins’s epochal television series, The Australian Wars.

There’s a lot else, including two short stories: ‘Home sweet slaughterhouse‘ a interesting take by Greg Page on the defacement of colonial statuary; and ‘New face in the fight against poverty‘ a futuristic satire of brand philanthropy by Andy McQuestin.

Page 75 is the tail end of a 13-page section given over to competition results. The section begins with ‘The labeller‘ by Saraid Taylor, a story of unprincipled opportunism in elite sports, which won the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize. (The runners-up are on the Overland web site, here and here.) The Judith Wright Poetry Prize 2021 follows, first with the generous and lucid Judges Report by Toby Fitch, Keri Glastonbury and Grace Yee, then the winner, an excellent prose poem by Ender Baskan titled ‘are you ready poem’, and the two runners-up, one of which, on Page 75, is ‘stones‘ by Lily Rupcic, described well by the judges as ‘a condensed evocation of a mother’s illness and despair’. In the context of a journal most of whose contents have the feel of a battlefield, these sixteen lines offer a still, jewel-like reminder of basic human courage and connection.


Melissa Hardie and Kate Lilley (special issue editors), Southerly 79.3: The Way We Live Now (2022)

Described in the editors’ introduction as a ‘collection of pandemic inspired and pandemic-adjacent writing’, this is a digital issue, available free to download or read online – or, if you’re even more luddite than I am, to print off and read on paper.

It’s a rich 160+ pages, with 30 poems, three short stories, five review articles, and 10 pieces collected under the general heading ‘Essays and Memoirs’. Listed among the poetry on the Contents page is ‘Lost Matchstick Sonnets’, a series of clever and beautiful photos by Catherine Vidler featuring 14 wooden matches – the cover image on the left is part of the series.

Strikingly, all but one of the prose pieces, excluding reviews, were by women or gender non-conforming people.

As usual with me and Southerly, I skimmed some pieces: two pieces in dauntingly academic language, most of the reviews, some poems. If you want to dip in (remember, it’s free to access or download), you’re very likely to find something to delight or enlighten. To name a random few:

  • Claire Aman, ‘If There Are Zebra Finches’ (joint winner of the 2019 David Harold Tribe Award for Fiction), a clear, resonant short story set in an Australian desert
  • Sophia Small, ‘To Autumn Again’, which starts with a group of high school students laughing at extreme emotion in a movie they are being shown at school, and then claws back the ground for intense emotion
  • Eileen Chong, ‘Reason’, a starling evocation of a parent-child relationship over time, in a very few lines
  • Toby Fitch, ‘New Chronic Logics’, complex evocation of lockdown
  • Kate Lilley, ‘Commons, a kind of love poem
  • Beth Spencer, ‘chronic kitty covid city’, a lockdown poem that’s both funny and true (of many of us)
  • Alison Whittaker, ‘the poets are about to lie to you’, a terrific poem about responses to Covid lockdowns, excellent because one suspects that Whittaker is one of the lying poets as well as their denouncer.

Page 75 falls in the middle of the reviews section, on the final page of Vanessa Berry’s ‘From Catastrophe’, a review of Danielle Celermajer’s Summertime, a memoir of the bushfires of 2019–2020. .

Summertime is among those works of environmental life writing that expands the personal across time and space, where the writer is at once the perceiver of her thoughts and world, and a figure through which the reader can access collective feeling, knowledge and accountability. From the experience of the fire summer it sets out a generous and unflinching philosophy, unfolding from the most urgent question of our time: how to sustain life and future for all beings on this earth?

This has the opacity of much academic writing – I don’t know what it means, for example to expand the personal across time and space, though I’m pretty sure I would if I was well enough read in current academic writing – but the second sentence in that quote brings into sharp focus one key element of the way we live now, the challenge created by the climate emergency, and which most of us spend most of our time trying to ignore.

A tiny personal complaint: on page 144 the first name of Indigenous artist Jonathan Jones is misspelled. On behalf of all Jonathans I plead for special attention from proofreaders.

Journal Catch-up 15

Here I am once again with two journals, each of which has produced another issue after the one I’m writing about.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 3 (Giramondo 2022)

I’ve just read a tweet quoting Helen Garner about Heat series three:

So slender and elegant, nothing wasted, nothing grandiose – and beautiful work.

Beautifully said!

The third issue is true to Heat‘s original goal to publish culturally diverse voices. It has a bit of a theme going:

  • ‘Australian Capital Territory’, a short story by Madeleine Watts, in which a man and a woman search in and around Canberra for somewhere to have sex, and finally succeed in a manner that is most satisfactory to them, the watching kangaroos and the reader. So, sex.
  • Small Talk’ by Kenneth Chong, a very different short fiction, presented as a kind of abstract memoir, about a young man of faith dealing with troubling issues. So, sex and religion
  • ‘Cain’s Feast’, a short story by Mexican writer Aniela Rodríguez, translated by Elizabeth Bryer, in which a young woman is seduced by a priest and a young man takes revenge. So, sex, religion and violence
  • Tongue Broken‘ by Kate Crowcroft, not so much an essay as a collection of disparate thing connected with the author’s research on the tongue (she has completed a PhD and has a book coming out on the subject). It does one of my least favourite things, presents a word’s etymology as if it offers a kind of magical access to the word’s inner meaning. But the rest is variously lively, unexpected and informative. Also: religion and violence
  • Five terrific poems by each of Jarad Bruinstroop and Iman Mersal, the latter translated from Arabic by Robyn Creswell. Discreet sex, but no violence.

Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 245 (Summer 2021)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

Overland is always so full of interesting things that I can’t possibly name every item. Here are some things that stand out for me in this issue

Of the articles, one or two of which are too academic for my blood, the two that stand out for me are:

  • Perpetrators‘ by Rachael Hambleton, about her complex relationship with her father, who spent much of his life in prison. The essay expands into profound reflections on grief, punishment, the prison system and intergenerational trauma.
  • What lies beyond the vortex‘ by Mauricio Rivera Ramirez, which focuses on the novel La vorágine (1924) by José Eustasio Rivera. Though the subject may seems unpromisingly niche to a general reader, it includes fascinating insights into the colonial rubber trade in Latin America.

I’m often intimidated by the poetry section in Overland, edited by the marvellous Toby Fitch. I mostly enjoy the poetry but have no idea how to talk about it. In this issue, I was delighted to find a poem by Eileen Chong, ‘Dream kitchen’ (sadly not on the Overland website at the time of writing), which narrates a dream of the poet’s grandmother’s kitchen with wonderful surrealist gusto and ends in an echo of classic Chinese poetry:

_______________________-____I knew it was only a dream,
because I was in my bed, alone. I was far from her, and home.

There are three excellent short stories:

  • The first to lose‘ by Hop Dac, a story of Vietnamese-Australian family life
  • Machine works‘ by Jordon Conway, a brilliant sketch of work, class, relationships and integrity in the context of forklifts, lathes and vehicle repair.
  • Fontanelle‘ by Sarah Walker, an excellent companion piece to ‘Machine works’, a semi-futuristic piece about the work conditions of long-distance truck-drivers.

Then, tucked away up the back, there are the 2020 Emerging Older Poets Mentorship (one poem) and the five poems shortlisted for the 2020 Oodgeroo Noonuccal Indigenous Poetry Prize, including Claire G Coleman’s witty ‘Blame Ireland’ and the prize winner, ‘Choice cuts‘ by Mykaela Saunders, a long, fiercely anguished meditation on the commodification of Indigenous culture:

–how to hold onto my integrity
when cold neoliberal logic drills into me
and the colonial vacuum sucks the marrow from me as fodder

Next time: Heat 3, Overland 246, an issue of Australian Poetry, and – if I can overcome my reluctance to read journals online – Southerly 79:3.

Journal Catch-up 14

Both the journals in this month’s catch-up are slim enough to be carried around for reading on pubic transport waiting in queues or even, if the talkative company allows, in the sauna.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 2 (Giramondo 2022)

There’s an excellent article on Heat on the State Library of New South Wales website, entitled ‘On Fire‘. The author, Miriam Cosic, gives a quick history, from editor Ivor Indyk’s rage at the Hand That Signed the Paper affair to Alexander Christie’s appointment as editor of Series 3, and pays appropriate homage to Jenny Grigg’s elegant minimalist design of the new series. She interviews Christie, who has a deep respect for the multiculturalism, internationalism, and especially commitment to good writing that characterised the earlier series of Heat, as well as their providing opportunities for new writers:

‘It takes a long time to become a good writer, to really hone your craft,’ Christie says. ‘I want to bring [emerging writers] into the mix and elevate them next to established voices. That’s really important to me.’

The second issue opens with a black and white photo of a bark painting by Naminapu Maymuru-White, which serves as a kind of acknowledgement of country, and has a caption alerting us to an exhibition of Yirrkala bark paintings to take place in New Hampshire in September this year. The six pieces of writing follow:

  • ‘Ludic Literature’, an abstract literary essay by British novelist Helen Oyeyemi
  • ‘Unlock to Ride’, a short story by New Zealand novelist and short story writer Pip Adam
  • ‘Min-Min’, a prose poem / flash fiction by First Nations poet Samuel Wagan Watson 
  • ‘Sit Down Young Stranger’ a short story by Luke Carman, a Heat veteran
  • Three prose poems by Michael Farrell, also a Heat veteran
  • ‘Allen’, a short story by Ren Arcamone, this issue’s ’emerging writer’.

I enjoyed Luke Carman’s story about a depressed musician in Katoomba, and look forward to his next book, which is due out very soon. But, perhaps because I’ve been reading a diary I kept nearly 50 years ago when I was living in a shared house, the piece that most engaged me was ‘Allen’, in which an inner-city 20-something couple have an imaginary flatmate that they can blame when things go wrong in their flat. By good fortune, ‘Allen’ is the one piece from this Heat that has been made available online. If you’re interested, here it is.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 244 (Spring 2021)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

There’s so much excellent stuff in this edition of Overland that it’s hard to know where to start. The high point for me is probably the short story ‘Shane’s castration‘ by Michael James, a tale of early teenage humiliation at the skateboard rink that negotiates the intersection of sexism and the oppression of young people with profound compassion for all its characters, and maintains the tension right to the final sentence. The other three short stories are strong, but inevitably pale in comparison. Someone in the sauna asked me what I was reading just as I started Kathryn van Beek’s ‘Honey Babe‘. I read out the first sentence, in which bras are mentioned, and no one asked me to read further. It turns out to be a weird story in which a woman gives birth to a large peach: I’ll never know how it would have gone down with that audience.

The poetry section is, as always, strong. The poems that touched me most were both by Belinda Rule. ‘Pointless, in space‘ is a lament for the Croajingalong National Park devastated by 2019–20 bushfires, and an atheist’s prayer for the timber men (particularly poignant for me as I’ve just read John Blay’s Wild Nature, blog post yet to come, in which the author walks through that forest just before the fires); ‘In the only flats in a posh suburb‘ is a complaint about noisy neighbours, kind of.

It’s the cumulative richness of the articles that take up just over the first half that leaves me in awe. In particular:

  • I would prefer not to‘ by Ellena Savage discusses the toll ‘turbo-neoliberalism’ takes on the lives of millennials, compares her situation to that of her boomer (?) father, and takes both him and Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener – whose catchphrase gives the article its title – as heroes
  • Reading Humphrey McQueen’s A New Britannia in decolonial times‘ by Jon Piccini does what it says on the lid, and among other things argues that Mcqueen’s later self-criticism was unreasonably dismissive of this work (‘There are books that, without you even knowing it, have shaped who you are as a thinker’)
  • Taking what’s owed‘ by Rafi Alam describes the way Community Legal Centres, founded as independent community-based initiatives, have largely been transformed under the influence of neoliberal policies into charities competing for government subsidy
  • Life-making through and beyond the pandemic by Miriam Jones focuses on ‘life-making’ workers, in particular early-childhood educators, speaking as an early-childhood educator herself and doing a brilliant job of contrasting the perspectives of policy-makers who see childcare as primarily a way of keeping women in the workforce, and the the workers themselves who ‘know that children are not only the nations’s future, but powerful, insightful and creative human beings in the here and now’.

Journal Catch-up 13

I used to call these posts Journal Blitzes, but there’s nothing very Blitzy about them. Just two journals this time: an Overland from a year ago and a Heat just one issue back.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 243 (Winter 2021)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

This issue of Overland opens with a suite of excellent articles:

  • Coming through ceremony, a brief insider’s history by Kim Kruger of the Melbourne-based Aboriginal theatre company Ilbijerri, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year
  • A teleology of folding, and of dying by Dženana Vucic. Don’t be put off by the high-philosophic title. This is a lucid personal account of the complexities of being a white Muslim – a child refugee from Bosnia – who is now atheist and hipster-presenting yet still identifies viscerally with Muslims worldwide who are facing something akin to the Nazi holocaust
  • The bridge and the fire by Robbo Bennetts, published before the terrible floods of 2021–2022, and perhaps written before the terrible fires of 2020–2021, reflects on the effects of two disasters he has been close to: the Westgate Bridge collapse in 1970 and the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009
  • Torrey Peters Detransition, Baby, in which trans person Yves Rees reviews a novel that has a Sex and the City frothiness, but whose ‘window onto transfeminine interiority is nothing short of revolutionary’. Recommended reading for anyone struggling with their inner TERF.

In a welcome return to tradition, this issue includes the winner and two runners-up of a literary prize. The inaugural Kuracca Prize for Australian Literature, established by Overland in honour of the late Kerry Reed-Gilbert, is open to all Australian writers for fiction, poetry, essay, memoir, creative non-fiction, cartoon or graphic stories, and digital or audio storytelling. The winner this year is a short story, the runners up are a poem and a personal essay.

There’s a generous eight-page poetry section, and three short fictions, of which the stand-outs are ‘Tight lines’ by Allee Richards, a tale of the collateral pain when the main character’s relationship with a child is brought to an end by the ending of a relationship with the child’s father; and see you later by Zowie Douglas-Kinghorn, a vivid evocation of work on a dairy farm, which most satisfactorily brings up to date the genre of workplace short stories.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 1 (Giramondo 2022)

Heat is back from hiatus. Series 2 Nº 24 was published in 2011 (my blog post here) with no promise of a return. Now here is Series 3, slimmer, with a new look and a new editor, promising to appear every two months and – in my opinion – well worth the annual subscription price of $120 (slightly more for individual copies). My sense is that the new, intimate format is better suited than the previous, book-sized issues to the limited attention spans of our image-dominated era – there’s also a deft use of images.

This issue, introducing a minimalist design by Jenny Grigg, kicks off with a one-page linocut by Ben Juers, which works mainly as a reminder that Heat has in the past included substantial sections of visual art. The main body is made up of:

  • ‘Only one refused’ by Mireille Juchau, a Heat veteran. The essay tracks down the story of a family member who survived the Nazi camps, and makes dramatic use of illustrations, including a double page spread of the ‘Hollerith card’ that recorded her relative’s physical features, and a photograph of ghostlike women recuperating in the Mauthausen infirmary soon after liberation (This article is on the Heat web site, at this link)
  • ‘Special Stuff’, a grim short story by Josephine Rowe, featuring a woman, man and baby doing a futuristic equivalent of ‘duck and cover’, seconds before a nuclear explosion
  • Five poems by Sarah Holland-Batt, all dealing with the death of parents. I’m especially glad to have read these so soon after hearing SH-B read at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (my blog post at this link). If these poems, especially ‘Pikes Peak’, are any indication, her latest book, The Jaguar (University of Queensland Press 2022), is definitely something I want to read
  • ‘Brief Lives’ by Brian Castro, a kind of Decameron for readers with short attention spans, blended with a lament about ageing, with raging bushfires as a backdrop
  • Death Takes Me’, fiction by Hispanic USer Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker and Robin Myers, an esoteric variation on a police procedural that opens with a quote from Renate Saleci to the effect that castration is a prerequisite for sexual relations, and does nothing to allay the scepticism the quote provokes.

Number 2 is waiting on my shelf, and I’m looking forward to reading it.


PS: There’s a word in the Heat that I need help with. In the Brian Castro story, there’s this, speaking of an ageing writer taking refuge in a guesthouse with a number of other people:

He thinks. He thinks too much. Never sleeping. Now that Eros is held in liam in the other room, he fades into ancient tapestries.

(page 69)

What does ‘liam’ mean? Or is it Iiam (that is, does it begin with a capital ‘I’ rather than a lower case ‘l’? Given Heat 2’s propensity for typos and malapropisms, it may be an error. But if so, what is the correct word? All answers welcome, even correct ones.

Journal Blitz 12

‘Blitz’ is becoming less and less appropriate as a title for this series of posts. This one in particular has been a long time coming, but both these journals manage to have relevance to the current headlines. The Overland is co-edited by Evelyn Araluen, whose book of poetry Dropbears has just won the Stella Prize, and the Southerly shines a harsh light on both major Australian parties as a federal election campaign is heating up.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 242 (Autumn 2021)
(The content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

Let me walk you through this issue of Overland.

As usual, I skipped the editorial, beyond noticing that it opens with an apposite reminder of continuity: ‘Overland was founded with dual commitments to literary quality, and to publishing and fostering diverse writers.’

First, 51 pages of articles, kicking off with ‘The invisible sea‘ by Zowie Douglas-Kinghorn, which takes up a fifth of the journal to look at fracking in the Northern Territory: its contribution to climate change, its violation of First Nations people’s rights, its political and economic shortsightedness, its potentially disastrous effect on the Great Artesian Basin (the invisible sea of the title), the treatment of whistleblowers, and the lies, half-lies of distortions of fossil-fuel lobbyists and complicit government agencies. All this is told with a meticulous marshalling of data, and acknowledgement of the ‘data desert’ in which much of the extractive activity takes place, interwoven with moments of poetry, considerations of water as symbol, and snippets of the writer’s life story. The result is that the excellent summary of the state of things is also a personal call to arms:

Rather than ‘saving the children’, we need to equip young people with the resources for an ecologically, socially and economically just future. There is no way we can achieve this without addressing the traumas entrenched in our collective memory. But young people are powerful. We are embodied change, and youth should not be underestimated.

After this atypically long piece comes the very short ‘Libations‘, an impressionistic memoir/meditation by Cherry Zheng, whose mother migrated to Australia at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre; and ‘Hopeless labour‘ by Giles Fielke, another relatively short article that focuses on the way universities exploit their casual staff, though it sends sparks flying in so many directions that it’s hard to say that it’s about any one thing.

In ‘A house in the country spells death‘, Aidan Coleman regales us with tales from the unruly life of poet John Forbes – foreshadowing his biography of Forbes due out soon. ‘Reclaiming Space’ by Robert Poposki, subtitled ‘An essay of autotheory’, reflects on the ‘tired and gendered French concept’ of the flâneur, argues that walking is still a good thing, and includes autobiographical anecdotes sequestered in text boxes – anecdotes that don’t obviously relate to flânerie or any kind of walking.

Second, the poetry section, starting with the judges’ notes on the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and the four winning poems. (This is the first issue under the new editorial team to include prize results, and there are two!)

It may be parochial of me, but I’m delighted that Sara M Saleh of Western Sydney won the prize with ‘Border Control: Meditations‘. It and the runners-up are all here, plus another generous seven page feast of poetry.

More parochialism from me; The fiction section, which comes next, starts with judges’ notes on the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize 2021, followed by the winning story, ‘The Case of G: A Child Raised by Trains‘ by Inner-Western Sydney poet Tricia Dearborn, a wonderfully creepy scientific paper, complete with footnotes, whose title is self-explanatory.

The runners-up are all worth reading: the protagonist of ‘Anchor point‘ by Allison Browning is on the phone to Lifeline as she contemplates suicide; in ‘Mary Regard the Virgin’ by Jo Langdon (not on the website) it’s the politics of girls in high school; ‘Why green when silver‘ by Jordan De Visser has an older sibling’s relationship to a much younger brother that I’m not sure I followed completely; the title character of ‘The wild red herbivore‘ by Karen A Johnson is bushfire, and in this quiet, almost meditative fiction, it’s pretty much an offstage character.

The guest artist for this issue is Stephanie Ochona.


Elizabeth McMahon (editor), Janet Galbraith, Hani Abdile, Omid Tofighian, Behrouz Boochani (guest editors), Southerly 79.2: Writing Through Fences – Archipelago of Letters (2021)

After a two-year hiatus, during which subscribers received an alarming but mercifully incorrect email notifying them that their standing orders had been cancelled, Southerly is back.

This issue is a departure: an anthology of writing sparked by the hardships imposed on refugees and people seeking asylum by Australia’s immigration policies. Most of the writing is by people who have been or currently are in detention. There are also pieces by allies and advocates. Of the guest editors, two are themselves refugees, Hani Abdile from Somalia and Behrouz Boochani from Kurdistan/Iran; Omid Tofighian famously translated Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains from Farsi; and Janet Galbraith is the founder of the Writing Through Fences project, in which artists and writers who are refugees and asylum seekers work with non-refugee artists and writers who ‘are involved in collaborative, amplification and resourcing roles’ (the project web site is at this link).

A statement from Behrouz Boochani, quoted in Elizabeth McMahon’s Introduction, encapsulates the raison d’être for the project, and for this issue of Southerly:

Where we are is too hard. I think only in literary language can people understand our life and our condition.

In these pages, many minds grapple with that literary challenge. Some, many of them anonymous, write from detention; others after release and resettlement in other countries; some as journalists, allies or advocates; some as literary critics and/or theorisers; some as students writing to Behrouz Boochani about his book No Friend but the Mountains as part of a university exam while in Covid–19 isolation.

The language ranges from raw statements of painful emotion to capital-T Theory. There are folk tales, sweet anecdotes (I love the one about the cat in an Indonesian detention centre), poems, chronologies, reflections on translation, interviews and obituaries, as well as a scattering of visual art.

Many of the texts are translated into English. Some incorporate Tok Pisin as a sharp reminder that English is the language of the detainers and that for the detainees on Manus Island there is a chance of closeness with the locals, whose language is not English.

The collection makes for confronting reading. This is a side of Australia that most of us avert our gaze from. The title of each item includes a date and place, and in some cases the age of the writer. There is no looking away from the poems written by teenagers who have been in detention for years. Nur Azur, for example, tells her story in ‘Unfinished Sty of a Girl Born Stateless’. Born in 2001 of a Karen mother and a Rohingya father, she tried several times as a child to reach Australia, and in 2020, the time of writing, was still in a terrible limbo, partly of Australia’s making, in Indonesia. She writes:

Imagine:
Still there is not enough money for your baby and for food. Often there is only rice and salt. For 7 years, each time you ask the UNHCR about your resettlement process they reply: ‘We have already sent your files to the third countries, and they are under process.’ You have never received any proper information from the UNHCR regarding your resettlement, and neither have you seen any improvement or hopeful developments in your life.

Most mornings, when I wake up, my first thought is that I long to see a change in my life. Drifting into daydream, I escape into a world where I see myself going to school, studying, drawing, painting and doing homework with a large number of students. But when I get up, my dreams are shattered and all I can see is a small smoky room.

(‘Unfinished Story of a Girl Born Stateless’, page 243)

The most dramatic and harrowing piece is ‘siege’, a 23-page compilation of tweets written by detainees on Manus Island during the weeks-long stand-off when the Australian government set about closing down their camp and, in the end, forcibly removing hundreds of men to ill-prepared camps elsewhere in the island.

Ever since John Howard prevented journalists from visiting the people saved from drowning by Captain Arne Rinnan of the MV Tampa in 2001, successive Australian governments have done their best to ensure that people detained offshore and on the mainland are kept anonymous. Behrouz Boochani and the Murugappans (the ‘Biloela family’) are rare individuals who have breached that wall. This collection, and other projects like it*, take to it with a battering ram. If they could read a wide audience, surely the rage, sorrow, pain and heroic generosity of spirit in these pages would sweep into the dustbin of history the three-word slogans and mealy-mouthed policy utterances of our political leaders.

Omid Tofighian’s comment on Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains is just as true of this Southerly:

Also, equally as important, the book has transformed the image of refugees as weak, needy and broken masses of people into creative, intelligent and assertive individuals.

(‘Australian Border Violence, Race, and Translating No Friend but the Mountains‘ an interview with Al Abram in Cairo, p 223)

Sometimes I feel as if the unstated motto of my blog is, ‘Things I’ve read so you don’t have to.’ This is not one of those times. Southerly isn’t the most readily available publication in the world, and this issue is certainly not a fun read, but if you have a chance I urge you to read and engage with it.


* One that I’m aware of is Penny Ryan’s Connecting Hearts Project. As part of her installation at Sydney Circular Quay in 2016, messages were smuggled from Manus Island and Nauru on pieces of muslin. Photographs of a number of these messages were published in the Guardian on 7 December 2016 – at this link.

Journal Blitz 11

I’m constantly in catchup mode with my reading of literary journals. I tend to start each one with a sense of taking on a burdensome duty – after all, these journals are invariably dancing on the edge of the precipice of financial ruin. I’m generally engrossed by about the third page, and remember why they’re worth supporting.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 241 (Summer 2020)
(The content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

Each issue of Overland currently (that is to say, a year ago, which is where I’m up to) is a three-parter.

Taking up the first two thirds is the articles section, a platform for marginalised voices and for arguments from outside the Overton window. The stand-out article in this issue is ‘No longer malleable stuff‘ by Jeanine Leane, an uncompromising contribution to the current conversation about who has the right to tell whose stories:

Australian fictionists may and most likely will still fossick over the stolen lands of the nation but we – First Nations peoples, Peoples of Colour – are no longer the ‘malleable stuff’ of the unchecked settler imagination. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a point in talking about an author’s identity if they were all the same. But this is no longer the case. We’re not dead. And, we’re not white. We write. Our identities matter.

Also in this issue, Mammad Aidani, whose writings have been banned in his native Iran, argues that it would be wrong of him to allow his writing to be published there (‘300 words for truth‘); Sam Altman sketches the ‘wholesale collapse of Earth’s planetary systems that sustain life as we know it’ (‘Prepare for collapse‘); Lisa Stefanoff promotes the movie In My Blood it Runs (‘The Australian government is not listening: education justice and remote Indigenous futures‘); Jinghua Qian and Liz Crash promote their virtual multimedia tour of the Melbourne suburb of Footscray (‘Underfoot: history from below‘); Angelita Biscotti reflects on her work as a nude photographic model, which she has come to see as sex work, and quotes the book I haven’t read whose ideas fascinate me most, The Managed Heart by Arlie Russell Hochschild (‘On the fantasy work that makes life bearable‘).

Second, there’s the 12-page poetry section, edited by Toby Fitch. From a strong and varied field, it’s again a first Nations voice that grabs me: ‘Mnemonic 2020‘ by Yeena Kirkbright walks us in 13 sections, each named for a colour, through the rough year that has just been (this issue was published at the end of 2020). Here’s section 8:

8. _______Purple
After the Jacaranda blooms we go into lockdown.
We are locked in together on Gadigal land. 
I work from my bedroom and feel more trapped than ever.
A manager tells me she heard an Aboriginal woman 
on Sky News say blak breathlessness isn't a problem. 
Not in Australia.
I am livid. I can't argue. I need to pay bills.

Third, the fiction section, edited by Claire Corbett, comprises four short stories, all terrific. ‘Frog song‘ by Magdalena McGuire has a mother and small child in sweltering Darwin weather: ‘It shocks them to discover the sun is not a thing of beauty.’ In ‘Smoke and mirrors‘, poet Samuel Wagan Watson tells a story of loss and grief with a (spoiler alert) twist I didn’t see coming. ‘The white sea‘ by Alistair Kitchen is an unsettling fable in which the sea turns white ‘in the way milk is white – thick and full and opaque’. With Jane Turner Goldsmith’s ‘Smoke road‘, we’re back in naturalistic mode with a taut, understated tale of leaving an abusive relationship.

It looks as if the print edition of Overland no longer publishes the results of the literary competitions listed on the website. This seems to have resulted in a cleaner through-line for each issue. The absence of regular columns has a similar effect, but I do miss the cameo appearances of Alison Croggon, Tony Birch, Giovanni Tiso et al.


Stuart Barnes & Claire Gaskin (guest editors), Australian Poetry Journal Volume 11, Number 1: local, attention (2021)

As promised, this issue of APJ includes a further instalment of Jacinta LePlastrier’s ‘New Series’, which pairs poems with commentary. But first there are 60 pages of poems that reflect the theme ‘local, attention’. The guest editors’ Foreword quotes Mary Oliver: ‘Attention is the beginning of devotion.’ They’re suggesting, perhaps that this collection of poems that pay attention to the local in as many ways as there are poems might be seen as a post-religious devotional book.

It’s a nice thought, and I can’t tell you it’s wrong.

I turned down the corners of four pages. This doesn’t mean the poems on those pages are somehow superior to the others or even that they struck me more strongly – it’s just that I remembered to mark them at the moment of first reading them. They are:

‘Falling’ by Gavin Yuan Gao, which starts out observing that

____+++++++___ despite years of dogged 
____++practice, English is still the slick
winged serpent the dull flute of my tongue
has failed to charm

and develops, by way of a consideration of the use of ‘fall’ when ‘you mean to say you’re in or out of love’, into a celebration of first love.

‘Quantum Vacuum Noise’ by Alicia Sometimes, in which life with small children in lockdown is seen as problematic for quantum computers (I think):

We have been creating in this space
forts on top of desks on top of kitchens

the fluctuating energy of us laughing would
distort any signals or information encoded

I probably marked ‘Slowly, Here in Esssaouira’ by Matt Hetherington because it’s pretty much a sonnet. It evokes a state of lassitude which, the title informs me via DuckDuckGo, is happening in a town in Tangiers:

a peace is descending upon me
the noisy children don't bother me so much
and things get done, one at a time

‘The Ibises’ by Greg Page won me because I’m fond of those birds and quietly resent their ‘bin chicken’ nickname. Greg Page is a First Nations man, and the poem’s serious turn is a delightful surprise:

Hated, like us Kooris
Told they don't belong
Moved on from their homes
Making do on the fringe

There are eight poem–commentary pairs in the ‘New Series’ section. Though every pairing is interesting and instructive, I was especially interested in two where the commentator is the English translator. Both Dong Li (on Song Lin’s ‘Near) and Stephanie Smee (on Joseph Ponthus’ ’31. from “Part two”, On the line’) shed brilliant light on a translator’s relationship to the original work and its author.


Vern Field (editor) Island 159 (2019)

This issue of Island is upfront about financial difficulties. In 2019, according note from Geoff Heriot, Chair of the Island Board, the journal managed three issues instead of the usual four – but it ended the year in the black so they managed ‘to keep the doors open’.

Elsewhere, the sense of struggle recedes. There are four interweaving elements: nonfiction edited by Anna Spargo-Ryan, fiction edited by Ben Walter, poetry edited by Lisa Gorton, and arts features edited by Judith Abell.

The arts features are beautifully illustrated essays on works by three Tasmanian artists – Lucienne Rickard’s Extinction Studies, Julie Gough’s Tense Past and Selena de Carvalho’s Beware of Imposters (the secret life of flowers) – that bear witness to the island’s vital art scene.

Ten poems are interspersed among the other contents. The poem that spoke most directly to me is ‘Ash in Sydney‘ by Jake Goetz. It’s a wonderful evocation of the experience of being in Sydney during the bushfires of summer 2019–2020, which begins:

ash in falling on the Lidcombe line
on Carriageworks and Regents Park
it's falling on planes of closed-up houses 
where Greg thinks his summer's fucked 
and it's blowing in from morning westerlies 
and it's blown back by arvo southerlies

You can read it and a number of other poems from this issue on the Island website at this link.

There are five pieces of fiction whose subjects range from international adultery to futuristic crime thriller. If I have to single out one, it’s Pip Smith’s ‘Starter Culture’, in which the 70-year-old narrator endures the slights that come her way from her granddaughters and other young women, and eventually wreaks satisfying vengeance (no young people being harmed in the making of said vengeance).

Among the excellent nonfiction pieces, it speaks volumes of Katerina Cosgrove’s ‘Death in the Garden‘, that I found its account of grief and resilience powerful even after it said that Epicurus ‘founded a school of thought championing the pursuit of hedonism’, which would have made my high school Latin teacher apoplectic. In ‘Principles of Permaculture‘ Sam George-Allen reflects on six months living alone on ‘a quarter-acre oblong island in a sea of golden grass, wedged between two improbable paddocks on the edge of a rundown country town’, and – though she doesn’t claim it for herself – describes a kind of solitary engagement with the earth that, through her beautiful writing about it, becomes a form of activism.


I interrupted the writing of that last paragraph to collect my mail. Sure enough, there was another literary journal hot off the press.

It’s like painting the Harbour Bridge.

Journal Blitz 10

‘Blitz’ is a misnomer. My progress through my backlog of subscribed journals has been at anything but lightning speed. One of the journals has gone into a troubling hiatus, which has had the silver lining of reducing my pile of obligation, but I’ve filled the gap with a couple of one-off purchases, so the pile continues to grow at least as fast as I can read. The reading itself, of course, is largely a pleasure.


Jacinta Le Plastrier (editor), Australian Poetry Journal Volume 10, Number 2: tribute, observations (2021)

For this issue of APJ, Jacinta Le Plastrier commissioned 29 poets and poetry-connected people to choose a poem by another poet and write a response to it and to the collection it appeared in. It’s a terrific idea. Much as I love Francis Webb’s description of a poem as ‘a meeting place of silences’, I’m delighted by this project’s invitation to read poems in the company of other thoughtful and engaged readers.

The resulting collection of poems and ‘commentaries’ lives up to the hope. Jan Colville’s poem ‘Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium’, for example, was chosen and commented on by Kristen Lang, whose book Earth Dwellers I loved. The poem is a response to a collection of herbs made by Emily Dickinson when she was a girl. It begins:

words slip off the page 
paste_ more than a century old 
_____ barely there_  cracked with age
_ and still
_____ here is the light through the forest
_____ her young hands 
_____ choosing stems, bare feet 
_____________________ in the dirt

Kristen Lang’s commentary sheds light and warmth even from her first words:

It is difficult to force a gap between the name ‘Emily Dickinson’ and the word ‘poet’. [This poem] not only prises the two apart but embeds there the warmth of an absorbed and absorbing child. There’s a contagious tenderness in this poem …

After a few more words that (for me) open the poem right up, she describes the book it came in – Journey (Walleah Press 2019). I immediately put Jan Colville and that book on my To Be Read list.

The rest of the poems vary richly in form, tone and content. There are poems by award winners and by people you’ve never heard of; poems by people whose work I love and have blogged about and people whose work is thrillingly new to me.

The commentaries are just as varied – including close, but not too close, readings like Kristen Lang’s; intensely personal prose poems; scholarly abstraction; and general advocacy for particular kinds of poetry.

There’s a translation from Bahasa Indonesia: ‘Termination Letter’ by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated by Tiffany Tsao, whose commentary on translation as creative collaboration is fascinating.

There’s a bilingual poem, ‘BIGGER THAN SCHOOL STUFF’ by Arrente poet Declan Furber Gillick, accompanied by the poet’s note on the incomplete poem as ‘a glimpse into the process of language revival’, and then a commentary from Jeanine Leane, who edited the anthology in which it appeared, Guwayu – For All Times (Magabala Books 2020).

As a lively, challenging and enjoyable introduction to the thriving, multifaceted contemporary Australian poetry scene, this would be hard to beat.

And then there are items that aren’t part of the main project, including an essay on poetry and science by Alicia Sometimes, tributes to Melbourne poet Ania Walwicz who died in 2020, and a blurb on Poetry Sydney, an independent literary organisation founded in 2019.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 240: Activism (Spring 2020), with links to the articles at overland.org.au

Here’s Adrian Burragubba on the alliance between Indigenous activists and non-Indigenous environmental activists in the context of the Stop Adani campaign:

Wangan Jagalingou’s case overlaps with the fact that large numbers of Australians oppose the Adani mine, and want it stopped.

The positive is that many people also support First Nations rights, and are joining forces with us. They know that by standing with us they can help protect the Galilee Basin, the natural springs, the Carmichael River. We welcome them. The negative is that support for our rights is not extended unconditionally and may therefore evaporate when the common goal is no longer an issue …

This is dangerous ground.

We call upon people to stand with us, but it’ll be our walk, our path, and it’ll be under our circumstances. 

That’s from his essay ‘When I speak I speak for the land‘ in this issue of Overland. It’s one of a stunning line-up of First Nations voices from the Activism @ the Margins Conference held in February 2020 at RMIT in Melbourne. Others range from Warlpiri story-teller Wanta Jampijinpa (‘Say sorry to the land‘) and longtime activist Puralina Meenamatta Jim Everett (‘An open letter to the next generation‘), to historian Victoria Grieve-Williams (‘Oodgeroo: Breaking the iron cycle of settler colonialism‘) and Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, whose ‘An Epistemic museum for modernity‘ calls for the thinkers and writers who legitimised white supremacy and slavery to be ‘identified, tracked down and held to account’. Taken together, the articles amount to an impressionistic history of Australian Indigenous activism from the 1960s Referendum campaign and the Gurindji walk off from Wave Hill to Blak Lives Matter and Indigenous hip-hop.

As always this Overland has rich selections of short fiction and poetry, edited by Claire Corbett and Toby Fitch respectively.

The poetry section includes stellar poets Omar Sakr, Samuel Wagan Watson, Ouyang Yu and Pam Brown. Jessica L Wilkinson has a beautiful historical poem, ‘Loïe Fuller entertains M. and Mme Curie at Boulevard Kellerman‘, and Zenobia Frost’s prose poem ‘sandwiches‘ is a powerful narrative of the loss of a parent.

Of the four sort fiction pieces, ‘Here comes the flood‘ by Perth writer Belinda Hermawan stands out for me. It’s a complex impressionistic tale of growing up with anti-Asian racism in Australia.


Vern Field (editor) Island 158 (2019)

As with the only other issue of Island that I’ve read, this issue is lavishly presented, with glorious full-page colour illustrations throughout. In fact, there’s hardly a page that doesn’t have some kind of image or colour effect behind the type, which is not always an advantage when a reader with deteriorating rods and cones is reading in artificial light.

This issue has a focus on the climate emergency, which is definitely a Good Thing, though maybe because I’ve been reading and brooding an awful lot about that subject I found more joy in the non-themed parts of the journal’s mix of creative nonfiction, essays, poetry, short fiction, excerpts from novels, and visual art.

Carmel Bird’s ‘Dr Power’s Prescription for the Fabrication of a Tasmanian Imagination’ is a nice piece of promotion for a work in progress, in which she discusses Colin Johnson’s largely forgotten historical novel Dr Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the End of the World and its importance in the history of Australian, particularly Tasmanian, literature.

Angela Rockel’s ‘Rogue Intensities’ is an excerpt from a forthcoming work that gives us three months out of five years of ‘sensations and thoughts arising from a life in place’. Its combination of personal observation and scientific information about the flora and fauna of her place is full of charm, though I don’t know how I’d go with a whole book.

Dominic Amerena’s story ‘Just Maybe’ has just two full stops. The first comes at the end of a four-page sentence that loops back and forward in time telling a slightly creepy story of seduction from the seducer’s point of view. Then there are two words and the story is over. It’s like watching a juggler on a high wire: will he lose control and have innumerable clauses come clattering to earth?

I read Ken Bolton’s long poem ‘Letter to John Forbes’ with undiluted pleasure. Writing 20 years after Forbes’s death, Bolton identifies himself as a fan, and as a fellow poet. In semi-formal seven-line stanzas and a disarmingly informal tone, he brings the departed Forbes up to date on developments among their community of poets and in the world in general – our recent run of prime ministers, the careers of Forbes’s poetic friends and enemies, speculating on how Forbes would have responded. You probably need to know a bit about all that history to enjoy the poem, but it’s full of life and wit. Here’s a taste:

__________________________________ Our foreign ministers
___you'd have cherished – Downer & his air of stammer, of blithering,
Julie Bishop's show-pony, best-girl competence
 _ _(the earrings & tailored clothes), Bob Carr – how he rose 
___ to the occasion – & Rudd, after years of talking down to us, 
was about to, patiently, talk down to the United Nations. Look at me, Ma! 
They must've objected, or seen it coming.